I shared these words at the Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat service in the wake of the shooting of 11 Jews in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue. The DJC community davened/prayed inside while our Multifaith allies stood outside in protection and solidarity with us. At the end of the Amidah prayer, we invited them to come in and join us for the end of the service.
Now that our mutlifaith partners have joined us, I want to say that it is so moving and powerful to see you all here. The members of the Danforth Jewish Circle are a mixture of Jews as well as those who are not Jewish. Tonight we are joined by a stunning group of allies – Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Unitarians, humanists, atheists and more.
Just a couple weeks ago, we held our annual Mutlifaith walk together, joined in partnership and a shared commitment to educate about poverty and homelessness and push for change in our economic system. This Multifaith group has been growing over the years.
We are committed to building strong relationships with each other so that we can work together for common causes and strengthen our impact. We are committed to building strong relationships so that we know each other in our important differences and in our beautiful sameness. And yes, also we build these relationships so that we have each other in moments of crisis and tragedy.
With tremendous shared grief, we stood outside mosques last January after the shooting of Muslims at a mosque in Quebec. And tonight we are together in heartbreak after the shooting of 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue. I pray and hope that we do not need to support each other in this way ever again. And it is good to know that we have each other when we need it.
First, I want to say a few things to the Jews in the room. The rest of you are welcome to listen. Later, I’ll speak to those who are not Jewish. To all of us who are Jewish, I want to say that this is an important moment to be visible as Jews, not to let fear make us hide. This is an important moment to know that it is good to be a Jew. I don’t say that with a sense of triumphalism, as if we are better than anyone else. And I don’t mean it with fists raised in angry defiance, as if to say, “we’ll show you anti-Semites what it looks like to meet a Jew.”
I mean simply, no matter what other people think or believe about us Jews, no matter what others do to us, that has nothing to do with us. All hatred is irrational and confused thinking. And it is important not to let hatred and violence define what it means to be a Jew.
It is good to be a Jew. We do not want to build Jewish identity based on tragedy or victimhood. I want us to embrace the beauty and wisdom and practices of this rich tradition, knowing that there are many ways to live a Jewish life.
I want us cherish our beloved people, every single one of them – no matter how much we may disagree with each other about important things. I want us to be visible as Jews when things are going well, when being Jewish seems inconsequential, when Jewish community is not a place of refuge or grieving, but a place to learn Jewish belonging, Jewish values and Jewish joy – for these to be normative in our lives even as we are a minority in this society.
I want us as Jews to stay visible, to stay connected, to reach deeply and caringly into our community, and to also reach vigorously outside it, so that fear and self-preservation neither drive us to become insular or small, nor drive us to assimilate, to distance ourselves from our fellow Jews, or to fight hard for every other oppression and cause, except for the liberation of our own people. It is core to Jewish values and mitzvot -Jewish action – to work to end all forms of oppression, and that includes our own.
It is essential to be awake to the realities of anti-Semitism in the world, to face the pain and truth that this was an attack against our cherished people, our family, simply because they were Jewish. That fact uniquely turns this pain, fear and grief against all of us. It is important to know that anti-Semitism is a hatred that has been more visible lately and it is likely to surface more in the future, right alongside hatred against Muslims, immigrants, women, LGBTQ folks, People of Colour.
And I want us to transform the wounds and fear we carry as Jews – so that we can be vibrant and relaxed, non-urgent and really be able to tell how loved, how loveable and how loving we are.
To all of you who are not Jewish, I want to say that this is an important moment to be visible as someone who isn’t Jewish who stands with Jews, reaching out to Jews in the particular pain of this shooting that targeted us. One of the hardest aspects of anti-Semitism is that it leaves Jews feeling isolated. History has taught us that when things go badly, when the economy takes a downward turn, Jews are blamed or attacked and we have often, historically, been abandoned by those we thought were our friends and partners.
Because anti-Semitism functions differently than many other oppressions, setting Jews up in the role of middle agents, rather than at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, there are stretches of time when it seems like anti-Semitism no longer exists. When the economy is good, when it benefits the larger society, Jews are given access to opportunities and resources.
But that position is precarious and provisional. And it comes at a cost. It sets us up to be the target of anger, resentment and violence, blamed for the decisions of the wealthiest and most powerful. This cycle has been repeated again and again across societies and over centuries. When anti-Semitism is at an ebb, people tend to think it no longer exists. As a consequence, anti-Semitism is left off the agendas of social justice movements, we are left blamed and isolated.
So it matters deeply that you are all here with us. It matters deeply that you don’t give up on us when our historic inherited terror of being annihilated or abandoned makes us act sometimes as if we are the ultimate victims of hate, or when it makes it hard sometimes for us to be strong allies to others.
Our relationships with each other are so dear, so important. There isn’t yet a widespread movement of Jews and Allies united to end anti-Semitism the way there are for other targeted groups like Gay-Straight alliances or white folks devoted to ending racism. That is telling. In profound sadness and in hope, I think this is the beginning of one.
May we strengthen each other, stand up for one another, and work together to make understanding, justice and loving far more powerful forces than any hatred could withstand.